The Arab Spring backlash has killed any hope of a free and fearless press

World Focus: The sacking of journalists is seen as a way of keeping newsrooms timid and self-censored

A foreign journalist was driving on a road near the rebel-held city of Raqqa in north-east Syria confident that he was safe because he was travelling with a commander in the Free Syrian Army and militiamen. They were stopped at a checkpoint manned by al-Qa’ida-linked fighters who promptly kidnapped both the journalist and his FSA protectors.

It was one of many similar incidents to have taken place in Syria, a place that is becoming increasingly dangerous for foreign and local journalists as they are targeted by kidnappers seeking ransoms while the leaders who used to protect them can no longer protect themselves.

Two years ago a new era, in which freedom of expression would be the norm, was confidently predicted to be dawning in the Middle East and beyond. Censorship was being circumvented by satellite television and the internet. Social media and YouTube was making it impossible for  old-fashioned police states to suppress the truth about their crimes.

Unfortunately, it has not turned out that way. Re-asserted state control of information and intimidation of  journalists and their employers is proving all too effective. In many countries freedom to publish dissident views is less that it was before the  protests and uprisings of 2011.

Re-invigorated authoritarian  governments have no doubt that they need to clamp down hard. A secret recording of an officer speaking to Egypt’s military ruler, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, sometime before his coup on 3 July, shows generals debating the best way to suppress or control the media. “We must re-establish red lines for the media,” the officer says. “We need to find a way of neutralising them… We should engage with these people directly and individually  and either terrorise them or win  them over.”

This has not proved too difficult as much of the media was always hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and those critical of the military regime are being suppressed or jailed. Al-Jazeera  satellite television, once lauded for its fearless coverage of the anti-Mubarak uprising of 2011, has two of its journalists in jail and must conceal the names of its correspondents.

Reflecting on what went wrong, an Egyptian journalist said: “Post the fall of Mubarak, journalists in Egypt did not think about how to institutionalise freedom of speech. We were obsessed with getting rid of individuals. But all private media in Egypt is owned by businessmen who made their money under and through Mubarak.” Aside from this, the media and their customers have a common disillusionment with the high hopes of the Arab Spring and, in the words of another Middle-East-based journalist, they have “a huge sense of failure and crave the old certainties.”

Independence of the media is not just faltering in countries that experienced the Arab Spring. In Turkey, the government is putting intense pressure on businesses with a stake in the media to remove those journalists criticising the actions of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party. Some 22 journalists have been sacked and 37 forced out of their jobs since the Gezi Park protests in early June, according to Reporters Without Borders . “Firing people puts news rooms on the leash,” says Yavuz Baydar, a columnist who was himself sacked by the daily Sabah newspaper. “All stories that are about misuse of power and corruption will be filtered and ignored by a timid, self-censoring media.”

In the eyes of many younger Turks much of the media discredited itself permanently at the time of the mass demonstrations over Gezi Park by simply pretending it was not happening. Mr Baydar says that the upper middle class media, which had not been much concerned when the government persecuted Kurdish journalists, suddenly found that they were in the firing line. He adds that “media managers are doing huge damage to democracy by their unholy alliances with the government”.

The ever-increasing limitations on freedom of expression are not all the fault of authoritarian governments and Jihadi insurgents. Satellite television did much to open up debate in the Arab world over the last 15 years, but from 2011 on it became a partisan and unreliable participant in political confrontation and civil wars in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and beyond. Innovations in information technology which once seemed so progressive became instead a conduit for propaganda and hate.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders